For vegetable gardeners, as soon as the weather is favorable and the soil is dry if you haven’t already started, you can begin tilling and preparing the soil for your Spring garden!! I was at several garden centers around the Lafayette area during mid–February and gardeners purchasing vegetable transplants and seeds was brisk.
Most gardeners understand planting early does come with some risk from the possibility of freezing, they like a challenge and feel if they can cheat mother nature, they’ll be rewarded with early harvesting of vegetables. The other advantage of planting early is increased production during milder temperatures and usually less pest problems. A free copy of the Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide can be obtained from the parish LSU Extension Office.
Seeds of the following vegetables can be planted this month: cantaloupe, collards, corn, cucumbers, cucuzzi, lima beans, mustard, radishes, snapbeans, summer squash, Swiss chard, and watermelon. Plant transplants of the following: kohlrabi, peppers, and tomatoes. Mirlitons are planted now using the entire fruit with the sprouted end buried in the soil about 3 inches deep.
This is also the month that warm season bedding plants can be transplanted, so begin preparing the soil in landscape beds. Consider using root stimulants or starter solutions when transplanting warm season bedding plants, and pay attention to plant depth, being careful to set the plants at the same depth they were growing. A one inch layer of an organic mulch will help to suppress weeds, reduce soil compaction, and conserve moisture. It may take an average of a month for bedding plants to become established, so during this time be sure they are not allowed to dry out. Once the root system is established, less supplemental water will be needed. Sometimes after March 15th depending on temperature, it should be safe to plant tender bedding plants such as marigolds, zinnias, blue daze, pentas, celosia, salvia, portulaca, and melampodium.
Continue to plant roses purchased in containers, but bare root roses are still available at various garden centers even though they should have been planted last month. Once bare root roses begin to sprout, take extra care when selecting, planting, and caring for them until they become established. Summer flower bulbs can be planted beginning in late March or early April. Since most of these bulbs are tropical, it may be well into April or May before they begin to make accelerated growth. It is best to wait until April to plant caladiums since it’s preferable to plant caladiums in warm soil.
Established perennials should be fertilized this month. This is most efficiently and economically done by using a granular fertilizer with a 3 : 1 : 2 ratio (a fertilizer similar to 15 – 5 – 10 ) which means 15 % nitrogen, 5% Phosphorous, and 10 % Potassium. In terms of the amount and method of application follow label or packaging directions. After the fertilizer is applied, water the bed to wash any fertilizer granules off the foliage and down to the soil, since many fertilizers contain salts and can burn tender foliage.
As the weather/temperature warms up, lawn grasses will begin to grow and mowing will be needed. Sharpen mower blades as mowing needs become more frequent. However, this is not the time to fertilize lawns since fertilizing lawns while the soil temperature is cold will not allow the grass to efficiently pick up the fertilizer, and fertilizing too early can aggravate brown patch disease. The first application of fertilizer should be around the first week in April. I know it’s common to apply weed and feed products early in Spring, but keep in mind that weed and feed is a blend of a herbicide for weed control and a fertilizer. Instead, it’s preferable to concentrate on broadleaf weed control this month by applying one of the 4 way blend herbicides such as Ortho Weed B Gon or Fertilome Weed Free Zone.
Scout roses for thrips which are a common problem on roses in Spring and early Summer. Thrips are tiny insects that infest the flower buds. Symptoms include buds that don’t open properly, and when the flower does open, the petals have brown scorched edges. Thrips don’t damage the bush but can ruin the flowers. Spray once or twice weekly with Acephate or Mavrik for control. Fertilize rose bushes in early March, and also begin spraying to control insect and disease problems. For convenience there are several products available for rose growers that are formulated with both an insecticide and a fungicide in the same product.
Powdery mildew is a fungus disease that is common on the new growth of many plants that usually begin to show up this month. This disease appears as a powdery covering on the leaves or flower buds. Severe infection can lead to foliage being damaged and flower buds can drop. Look for fungicides labeled for control of powdery mildew, one of which is chlorothalonil.
It is a common practice for some gardeners to apply aluminum sulfate or lime to the soil around their hydrangeas to influence flower color. Aluminum sulfate causes the flowers to be blue , and lime causes the flowers to be pink. Since flower buds should already be present, don’t prune hydrangeas at this time.